We continued our five-week journey through 1 Corinthians this week by looking at the fourth chapter in its entirety. One of the things I love about doing scripture-based sermon series (as opposed to theme-based, which is what we did in Advent and over the summer) is that I really don’t know, from week to week, where my sermon is going to go. Sometimes it is dictated by what is going on throughout the week and, in the case of this sermon, that was what happened.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
January 26, 2020
1 Corinthians 4
We Are All In This Together
One of the best things that I have every done to, kind of, deal with my “control issues” (which, for the record, I would call “attention to detail” but I can see where others draw a different conclusion) is to have a child. And I am not just talking about the parenting side of things, either, I am talking about the work-balance side of things, as well.
The truth is, I was never really good at stepping away from my role at the church. Even when I was on vacation, I would take phone calls and respond to text messages and occasionally scroll through my email and not let myself completely disconnect.
And I don’t say this as a way to humble brag or make myself a martyr for the cause, either. While I do think part of this has to do with my “control issues,” an even bigger part of also has to do with the fact that I love this church so much; I love the community, I love the people and it does not always seem so much as a job for me as it is a way of life – for me and for my family.
Last week when we looked at the beginning of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we talked about just how clear it is in his salutation how much Paul loves this church. In this conversation, I could really resonate with Paul’s sentiments because they are similar to mine when I talk about our ministry here, at the church. So I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for Paul to found these churches and to work so closely with them and then have to leave to travel to a new place.
All this is to say, I have thought about this a lot over the past few weeks as I worked to secure my maternity leave coverage.
Here’s the thing – I will be away for ten weeks; and while I likely will have the best of intentions to touch base and try to stay connected because I really do love you all, there is a very good chance I will get distracted and not always follow through on those intentions.
And so it is important to me that, as a community, we are ready for me to step back in April. The difference between now and when I went on maternity leave with Harrison is that our church has grown a little bit, we have more going on and I will be gone primarily during the program year and not just during the summer.
But, like my father always says, the show must go on. I was thrilled to share with the Executive Board this week that a very good friend and colleague of mine has agreed to step in for me while I am away; she and I were part of the same clergy community of practice for eight years and she is very much looking forward to sharing in ministry with you all. She will be filling in part time, so, to some extent, we will have to prioritize what we need from her.
On the one hand, it feels kind of strange to be stepping away, even if it is only for a short amount of time, but, on the other hand, I am actually a little excited to watch what this church does together, as a community, in my absence.
Like I said, I have been thinking about this a lot over the past couple of weeks, because not only have I been working out the details of my maternity leave coverage, but we are also now looking at 1 Corinthians, which is a letter Paul wrote to the church a Corinth, a church that he founded, but was away from when he wrote the letter. On top of that, in bible study we are reading 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians, which are also letters Paul wrote to a church that he founded, but was away from when he wrote them.
This theme of what does it mean to serve a church and then to step away keeps popping back up to the surface around here. For all I know, it is a total God thing getting me ready to be away for a little bit, but I also think it is really cool to envision (there’s my star word – vision) what a church can do and be when it is about its people and not necessarily its pastor.
The difference between us and the Corinthians, of course, is that, from the tone of this letter and the fact that Paul says he is hearing reports about conflict and quarrels, it appears that when Paul left Corinth, chaos ensued. Now, I fully expect – and actually hope – that a certain level of blessed and holy chaos ensues when I go on maternity leave. But certainly not exactly what was going on in Corinth. So clearly this is certainly not an even comparison; however I do not think a church has to be actively experiencing turmoil and conflict to benefit from Paul’s words here.
A majority of this particular chapter reads as a defense; a defense of Paul and the people he is in ministry with, who helped him found this church. The problem is, when Paul founded the church, the Corinthians all looked to him in leadership; but when he left, people still felt like they needed a leader and so they started splitting off into various groups and forming allegiances to different people.
Here, Paul is saying, however, that they are all, in fact, equal in Christ; that he is equal with the other Apostles and with the members of the Corinthian church and that the members of the Corinthian church are all equal with one another.
So that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another.
In other words, we are all on the same team. This is our church – and we have a shared mission. We have to work together and view everyone’s role as equally important.
Let’s look at verses 8-13.
It is easy to take these verses out of context. Paul speaks highly of the Corinthians, calling them kings who are wise and strong and seemingly speaks lowly of himself and the apostles, calling them fools for the sake of Christ who are weak. If you just read these verses, it might seem like Paul is conceding to the church, but when you look at the tone of the rest of the letter, however, it is apparent, in fact, that Paul is being somewhat tongue and cheek in his writing here. He is making these sarcastic paradoxes as a way of pointing out to the church that is somewhat ridiculous and not at all productive for the sake of the Gospel to think of yourself as anything other than equal with your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Because, again, we are all in this together.
And, again, Paul is writing this with love. He goes on in verse 14 to say, “I am not writing this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.” He loves this church, he believes in this church and he, too, is envisioning what this church can do and be.
I understand where Paul is coming from because, again, I share these same sentiments. Our church is in a really exciting place right now. And, to be quite honest, while this does make the prospect of stepping away for maternity leave a little scarier this time around, it also gives me so much hope when I envision what you all, as a church, are going to accomplish while I am away.
This scripture reminds us that we are all equal partners in our ministry together, which I think is a really important message for us to hear, in our own church, today. Because whether you have been a part of this church for your entire life or, perhaps, you have only just walked through the doors for the first time today, we are all in this together. We are all sharing in this ministry together.
And what a beautiful and blessed and holy ministry it is.
The really cool thing about our church is that we have a bottom-up structure; we govern ourselves and the work we do is done by all of us – together. And so I would encourage you, as we all continue to dream about this new year, to really think about what God is calling you to do in this moment. Because whether it seems like we, as individuals, are doing something seemingly big or small, significant or insignificant, Paul’s words remind us that we are all doing this together.
There are so many different ways to get involved at the church right now. Like I said in my epistle note on Friday, don’t feel like you have to get involved in everything! This is why we have a village. Know that whatever you are doing, your work matters and you are making a difference in this church. Remember that together we create the church and that together we are the Body of Christ and that together we will share the Good News of God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining love to a world that so desperately needs to hear it and that together, we will be servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.
Thanks be to God!
 1 Corinthians 4:6, NRSV